Ewan Patrick is a singer-songwriter from Edinburgh, Scotland who’s long been dedicated to the study and making of music. He studied contemporary classical composition at Napier University in Edinburgh, then earned a graduate degree in Music Production at Leeds College of Music. He’s also played in many bands over the years, with whom he performed extensively across the UK, including at a number of major music festivals. Some of his songs have garnered airplay on national BBC Radio 1, as well as various BBC regional stations and on commercial radio. More recently, Ewan has begun recording some of the songs he’s written over the years that, in his own words, “never quite found their place in any of the bands I’ve played in.“
Last October (2020), he released his first double A-side single “Retrospect/Hurricane”. Both are very good anthemic pop-rock songs that beautifully showcase his songwriting, performance and production talents, as he records, mixes and masters all his music himself. Now he returns with a new double A-side single “Feels Good To Be Alive/Two Hearts“, which dropped February 1st. All four tracks will be included on his forthcoming debut album, due out later this year.
“Feels Good To Be Alive” speaks to how we can become complacent about life, and sometimes bitter that things didn’t turn out quite like we’d hoped or imagined. The song starts off low-key, with Ewan’s acoustic guitar accompanied by gentle percussion as he plaintively sings “How did this happen and when did I grow cold? I’m feeling insignificant as I’m reaching the end of the road. I won’t let my life disappear and slowly fade. It’s time for me to reframe and make the change.” The song then explodes with a torrent of electric guitar and crashing cymbals as he passionately sings with a strong sense of optimism and hope, and a belief that life is still worth living: “The rain keeps falling but it washes over me. Nothing’s working but I’m feeling carefree. I’m still hurting, yet it doesn’t bother me. Why? Because I’m still alive. It feels good to be alive.” It’s a beautifully-crafted and uplifting song.
“Two Hearts” is a deeply personal song that came to Ewan while writing his own wedding speech. He states that he was “not for a minute trying to contrive a love song for my future wife but it just kind of happened.” The song is appropriately beautiful and moving, starting off with Ewan’s acoustic guitar and heartfelt vocals as he sings of his love and devotion, and how his bride has made him a better man: “You took my hand. Made me a man. You’ve made me better than I’ve ever been. Come walk with me through hopes and dreams, and together we’ll take the world head on. Two hearts will beat as one.” The song gradually expands into a sublime ballad as he layers gorgeous chiming electric guitar notes, piano and heavier percussion, along with some beautiful cello performed by his good friend Rebecca Rowe.
Both songs are outstanding, and I must say I’m very impressed by Ewan’s strong songwriting, singing and musicianship skills. Not only are his songs finely-crafted from a technical standpoint, they also have a lot of those less tangible qualities of heart and soul that allow them to speak to us on a more personal and meaningful level. I see a bright future for this young artist, and look forward to hearing more music from him.
Los Angeles-based alternative pop-rock duo Ships Have Sailed have long been among my favorite indie acts, and I’ve featured them on this blog a number of times over the past three years. (You can read those reviews by clicking on the links under ‘Related’ at the end of this post.) Consisting of singer-songwriter and guitarist Will Carpenter and drummer Art Andranikyan, they write thoughtful, uplifting lyrics, which they adorn with dreamy melodies and sublime arrangements, and deliver with outstanding instrumentation and Will’s stunning vocals. They’ve released quite a bit of music over the past eight years or so, and have been on a particularly creative streak since the beginning of 2019, starting with their gorgeous single “Escape”. They’ve subsequently released five more excellent singles, their latest of which is “Breathe“, a beautiful song of optimism and strength that dropped January 27th. The song was written by Will, Art and Kelsey Mira Duennes, and produced by Will. The exquisite strings were played by Dan Hange.
I’ve had the pleasure of meeting Will in person on two occasions, and follow him on social media, where he frequently connects with his followers and posts positive and hopeful messages. He sometimes opens up about his own fears and insecurities, which I and many of his followers can certainly relate to. He was inspired to write “Breathe” by reflecting back on his own dysfunctional family and difficult upbringing, as well as the incredible resilience people have shown throughout the pandemic that’s upended so many of our lives. He told the webzine Earmilk, “’Breathe’ is the exploration of what our traumas and our inner demons can do to us over time…how they can isolate us from those we need the most, and how they ultimately have the potential to be our biggest downfall.” The song urges us to step back and take a deep breath, face our personal demons and traumas with a clear head and the belief that we can – and will – get through this.
All Ships Have Sailed songs are wonderful, but I have to say “Breathe” immediately ranks among their finest. It starts off with a gentle, atmospheric feel, highlighted by hauntingly beautiful piano keys accompanied by gorgeous shimmery guitar, ethereal synths, finger snaps and subtle percussion. Will breathily croons “All those secrets we keep inside / Run, run, run, hide, hide, hide until we stumble in the dark of our lies.” The song expands in the bridge into a dramatic anthem with soaring strings and thunderous percussion, the emotion in Will’s vocals rising along with the music as he fervently sings “Heart is racing, running for the light, I got to keep on breathing.” The music eventually calms back to the languid, soulful vibe we heard at the beginning, and by song’s end I’m covered with goosebumps, always a sign of a beautiful song that touches me deeply.
I’ve shared both Spotify and Soundcloud links of the song, so take your pick!
Bundy is a four-piece band from Long Beach, California who play a unique, eclectic and innovative style of post-punk rock with progressive overtones. I had the pleasure of seeing one of their shows a few years ago, and the high energy of their music translates well into their exciting on-stage performances. The band consists of front man Nani Serna (Lead Vocals, Guitar), Johnny Lim (Guitar, Keys), Mike Meza (Drums) and JB Vasquez (Bass). In January 2018, they released their magnificent debut album Bastard Performer, which in my review I described as “a kaleidoscopic soundscape of breathtaking melodies, complex musical structures and deeply meaningful lyrics that elicit strong emotional responses for the listener.”
From their beginnings in 2016, they’ve always shown a willingness to venture outside their comfort zone in the creation of music that pushes boundaries and grabs our attention in positive ways that both entertain and inform us. Since Bastard Performer, they’ve released a number of excellent singles, the latest of which is “Crush“, featuring the wizardry of Subtle Smiles, an electronic music duo consisting of producer Brian Frederick and singer-songwriter Marley Rae, who are also based in Long Beach. They make some terrific music too, so do check them out using one of the links I’ve provided at the end of this post.
Bundy recorded “Crush” almost two years ago, but felt like something was missing from the song, that it just wasn’t ready for release. They eventually turned to Subtle Smiles producer Frederick for help, who worked his magic to give the song a more epic feel befitting its powerful lyrics addressing self destruction and growth. Serna confides: “I wrote ‘Crush’ at a time when I was soaking in the chaotic. I had lived with relationship trauma that haunted me for 10 years. It sent me down a spiral of triggers. I wasn’t the person I wanted to be. Now we’re all better but the pain will keep resurfacing. I’m now living my best life, with love and joy. I have people who legitimately understand my issues. and I hope that if you are feeling down and crappy about yourself, let me tell you: with open hearts, REALLY looking at yourself, and taking steps to improve – things will get better and you can fix the cycle.“
Musically, Bundy and Subtle Smiles deliver a thrilling sonic eargasm bathed in cinematic psychedelic grooves. I love the dominant pulsating bass line, eerie synths, roiling guitars and thunderous percussion, all working together brilliantly to create a dark, menacing vibe. The intricate guitar riff in the bridge, accompanied by powerful galloping drumbeats, further heightens the tension. Serna has a beautiful voice that skillfully expresses strong emotions as he laments “Sooner or later you’ll find out all about me and how I was set off on a path to my own self destruction. Now we’re all better but the pain it keeps resurfacing when moments are remembered, the feelings are triggered. Another love to crush.”
SomeRiseSomeFall (SRSF) is an independent collaborative music project consisting of songwriters, musicians and vocalists based in Cork, Ireland. The brainchild of Michael Fitzgerald, who refers to his project as “a musical eclective producing music for the human condition”, SRSF brings together folk, rock and traditional Irish musicians for the purpose of focusing on the transformational power of music. The ever-evolving collective brings together artists and vocalists such as John Blek, Rowan, Anna Mitchell, Kevin Herron, Marlene Enright and a large cast of musicians with producer Brian Casey, videographer Allie Glynn and artist Riona NI Riagain to interpret & reimagine classic or important songs for unique new recordings.
In addition to being all about the music, SRSF is passionate about many social issues, including raising awareness for, and improving the treatment of, asylum seekers in Ireland, and promoting greater awareness and understanding of mental health issues. Proceeds from SRSF’s music go towards charitable groups who are helping with both of these issues. Their music is available for download/purchase from http://www.somerisesomefall.com and all online music sites.
SRSF released their debut album Some Climb in 2017 via FITZZ Records, featuring musicians Martin Leahy, Hank Wedel, Edel Sullivan, Annette Buckley and Ger Wolfe (which you can listen to on Spotify). Last February (2020) they released the emotionally-charged “The Rain Came Down on Everything“, the first single from their forthcoming album No Simple Highway, due for release on February 26th. Fitzgerald stated that the guiding philosophy of the album is “to connect and uplift those dealing with the challenges of love, loss and grief, and I and the musicians involved are convinced of the positive effect of connecting people to their own emotions and through this, discovering empathy and kindness.” They’ve since continued to release more singles, the latest of which is “Funny Time of Year“, a stunning and bluesy song I’m delighted to choose as my New Song of the Week.
“Funny Time Of Year” was written by Beth Gibbons (of Portishead) and Paul Webb (aka Rustin Man, and former bassist of Talk Talk), and originally released on their 2002 album Out Of Season. Like the previous SRSF single “The Rain Came Down On Everything”, “Funny Time of Year” features captivating vocals, piano and keyboards by Anna Mitchell (whose wonderful self-titled album I reviewed three years ago), Hugh Dillon on acoustic and electric guitars, Brian Hassey on bass, David Murphy on steel guitar and Davy Ryan on drums and percussion. The song was produced and mixed by Brian Casey at Wavefield Studios and mastered by Richard Dowling at Wav Mastering. Proceeds from sales of the single will go to the Cork Simon Community, a local homeless shelter in Cork City.
Everything about “Funny Time of Year” is perfection, from the stellar arrangement, intricate bluesy guitars, subtle bass line, and lush keyboards to those achingly beautiful and pedal steel chords that at times sound almost like they’re weeping. It all works to create a melancholy, yet sublime, soundscape. Then there’s Anna’s gorgeous, vibrato-tinged vocals that beautifully convey an intense vulnerability and sense of sad resignation as she laments over a lost love. I didn’t think Anna and company could top “The Rain Came Down on Everything“, but they’ve succeeded quite nicely.
These silent words of conversation Hold me now this adulation See me now Oh it’s easy now
Falling like a silent paper Holding on to what may be
And I only hear Only hear the rain
And many rains turn to rivers Winter’s here And there ain’t nothing gonna change The winds are blowing telling me all I hear Oh it’s a funny time of year There’ll be no blossom on the trees
Turning now I see no reason The voice of love so out of season I need you now But you can’t see me now I’m travelling with no destination Still hanging on to what may be
It’s a funny time of year I can see There’ll be no blossom on the trees And time spent cryin’ has taken me in this year Oh it’s a funny time of year There’ll be no blossom on the trees
Falling like a silent paper Holding on to what may be It’s a funny time of year
I can see There’ll be no blossom on the trees And time spent cryin’ has taken me in this year
Turning now I see no reason The voice of love so out of season I need you now But you can’t see me now I’m travelling with no destination Still hanging on to what may be
I’ve touched on this a number of times on previous posts, but one of the advantages of being a music blogger is becoming exposed to all kinds of music I otherwise might not have ever heard. So it was a nice surprise to receive a message from British ska collective Zen Baseballbat – is that a fantastic name for a band, or what! – asking whether I’d be interested in reviewing their new album Rations. Let me state up-front that I dislike writing album reviews, as they’re a lot of work, plus my Attention Deficit Disorder makes it difficult for me to focus my thoughts on a large number of songs, further compounding my stress levels.
That said, the moment I pressed play, I was delighted by this album. It’s wild, it’s zany, it’s fun, and as thoroughly eclectic as any record could possibly be. Besides ska, which itself is an eclectic mash-up of Caribbean mento and calypso, American jazz and R&B, the songs feature generous helpings of electro, punk, new wave, reggae and dub, as well as an unexpected touch of bluegrass just to keep us on our toes – all served up courtesy of nearly every conceivable instrument known to man, along with seemingly silly lyrics that brilliantly reflect deeper meanings.
I’d never heard of Zen Baseballbat previously, however, from what I can tell they were formed some time during the first half of the 1990s by twin brothers Gary and Carl Gleavey, along with several other musicians. Their earliest recording I could find was the 1994 EP Kneel Down To The Mothers Of The Slums, released via Toebunger Records. They later released two albums under the Moon Ska Records label – I Am The Champion Concrete Mixer in 2000, followed by For Refund Insert Baby in 2004. They disbanded in the late 2000s, but reformed a decade later with a new lineup and a newfound burst of creativity.
Based in Widnes, England, a mid-size city located between Liverpool and Manchester, Zen Baseballbat now includes Gleavey twins Gary on guitar & vocals, and Carl on bass & backing vocals, Jordan Donaldson on keyboards & backing vocals, Mike Wilkinson on drums, Jonathan ‘Jogga’ Parker on guitar & backing vocals, as well as Anoushka Wittram-Gleavey and Colin Mackay, who produced the album. In 2020, they released an EP You Won’t Get Paid and two singles “Place Like This” and “Take the Skinheads Bowling”. On New Years Day, they released Rations, which features reimagined versions of 11 songs that previously appeared on I Am The Champion Concrete Mixer and For Refund Insert Baby.
About the album, the band explains: “Rations conjures up images of need, neglect, desire and food banks in the modern world. It definitely shouldn’t sound this positive and joyful. ‘Rations’ is the sound of misery turned on its head. This CD is a radar pulse crossing borders and political divides and says firmly, we are internationalists. These are songs of love, loss, hurt and a knee to the neck from every cunt who wants to keep you in your place. Words have space to breath and weave, voices sound measured with biting intent, bass lines jerk and slide under polyrhythmic prose, whilst organs bounce from corner to corner. This body of work has emerged clear eyed and victorious, handled to a T by producer Colin McKay.“
They kick things off with “Whipping the Lash“, which opens with a woman chanting German numbers translating to “seven eight zero seven nine nine” to a synth beat. Things quickly expand into a bouncy retro new wave dance groove that sounds like it could have been produced by Missing Persons or Thomas Dolby. Though the track is heavy on synths, that driving bass line and those jangly guitars are fabulous. The song seems to be a love song told through clever car-oriented lyrics describing feelings of lust: “I just love the way you move your fingers up and down the wheel, Into such mechanical force. It’s the way that you want me to feel.”
Next up is the delightful “Captain Midnight“, a ska song at heart, but given a dramatic synthwave treatment that nicely plays off the lyrics: “Nobody knows who I really am. Nobody knows. Under my vest I’m a Superman. Well I’m a perfect stranger. They even baptized me danger.” On the hilarious “Masochistic Motown“, which to my ears has a bit of a Talking Heads vibe, they touch on a situation where there’s simply no pleasing the man, no matter how hard she tries: “He gets porn at his fingertips, but snubs her new knickers. She’s gone from mouse to blonde, but he never noticed it. She wants him back, she wants him back. She wants him back, she wants him.”
The tables are turned on “Year of the Dog (That Bit Me)“, as this time she’s left him, and he’s feeling like a loser: “Here I am at a municipal dock pond. Oh my god love hurts. She upped and left me in mid sausage, punctuating end with burps.” The song opens with a man’s voice saying “I wish you good luck, but you wouldn’t know what to do with it if you got it“, and ends with that refrain, followed by another man exclaiming that he is in fact a loser: “You lose! Good day sir! It’s all there in black and white, clear as crystal. You lose!” The song’s jaunty vibe, replete with an upbeat ska rhythm, exuberant horns and lively organ, belies the rather morose lyrics.
“Brown Cows of Elocution” is a lovely serving of dub reggae delight, and I dare anyone to keep still while hearing it. The cheeky lyrics poke fun at high society’s penchant for verbal diarrhea: “In a compost heap where a language grew, us duffers in the meat yard never had a clue. Our vowels were strangled by the cattle gas. / Sure it’s a laugh sure it’s a gas.”
The great tunes keep coming on strong as the album continues. “The Injection of Love is Wearing Off” features more of those lovely horns and organ, and speaks to a relationship in which love is fading” “The injection of love is wearing off. My heart’s wide open. There goes the heat. The magic carpet pulled from under my feet. She made me feel like an out of season seaside.” And have I mentioned that I love Gary’s distinctive singing voice, in which his charming accent is quite pronounced? On “Signed Off R. Mutt“, Zen Baseballbat delivers a surprising injection of rousing hillbilly-flavored bluegrass to lament about the soul-killing downside of most jobs: “I left the job club torture room with little applause. They broke up my horizons over them there town hall walls. I offered them the services of a Marcel Duchamp. They gave me the post of a lavatory attendant. / We know exactly where we are, going under together in a gas filled car.“
“Bananas” is a fascinating and darkly humorous track with a macabre vibe, thanks to an abundance of spooky synths and eerie guitar notes. The lyrics seem to address a downtrodden social milieu, sort of a Les Misérables meets Sweeney Todd, told through rather repulsive food and restaurant metaphors: “Where’s the crapper? They’re ready to order, ready to murder a braison elephant paddling in batter, two galloping gonads, and the next man’s earlobes. Mine’s a grated brick. And a ballbuster special seasoned with a banana skin. My gastronomic exit. Fly, there’s not enough waiters in my soup!” And on “Matching Houses“, they contrast a breezy reggae melody with pointed lyrics about the banality of suburban life: “Making the most of our matching houses in the middle of nowhere special./ Polluting the back of our nostalgic settee with lies and social security. Painting brown carpets with sunshine. Moving for the last time.”
Continuing on that theme of socio-economic ennui, “The Returner Prize” speaks to the frustrations of being stuck in a dead-end job with no hope of upward mobility, and expected to be thankful for the crumbs you’re thrown by the high and mighty: “Meet your average working stiff, pushing a button in a light bulb factory. Meet your average working stiff, I never touch my salmon paste sandwiches. When Her Majesty came to our dumb town we had a whazz in her brew. Down Stewards Avenue when Her Majesty came to our dumb town, we had to clear up the streets after the mess that she had left.” The closing track “Whipping the Drop” is a mostly instrumental dub reggae song with a strong techno vibe, and seems to be a sort of conclusion to opening track “Whipping the Lash”. The spooky yet stylish industrial synths, throbbing rhythms and whispered vocals repeatedly chanting “Sieben acht null sieben neun neun” give the track a sultry otherworldly vibe.
To expand on some of what I alluded to at the beginning of this review, Rations is a truly delightful album, filled with lyrical and instrumental brilliance that surprised me at every turn. There’s so much going on in every track that, even on my sixth listen, I still discovered another instrument or little nuance I hadn’t previously noticed. I did listen to Zen Baseballbat’s earlier recordings of some of the songs featured on Rations, with their more pure ska stylings, and they were also quite good. But with their reimagined treatments, I think they’ve taken these songs to the next level, giving them a whole new life.
Los Angeles has long been a magnet for young musicians wanting to establish themselves as artists, and I’ve featured many on this blog. One young and promising artist who caught my attention last summer was Ania Thomas, a massively-talented guitarist, songwriter and singer who identifies herself simply as Ania. Born and raised in Poland, she developed a love for music at a young age. She emigrated to America as a teen, first to Chicago, where she studied music at the School of Rock, then to Los Angeles, where she’s now based, to study music at USC and the Musicians Institute in Hollywood. Inspired by such artists as Trent Reznor of Nine Inch Nails, Blondie, St. Vincent, Tool, Rage Against the Machine, L7, Nirvana, Soundgarden and Alice in Chains, her aggressive music style is characterized by modern synth textures, killer guitar solos and bewitching vocals.
In 2019, she released two terrific hard-rocking singles “Run Away” and “Doors Close”, then followed in May 2020 with her third single “Poison“ (you can read my review here). After that, she collaborated on two singles, with Noir Production on “Miyako Sushi” and Marcio Hendrik on “Hollywood Moon”. In December she dropped her fourth solo single “Tuesdays“, for which she’s just released an accompanying video on January 22nd. Ania wrote the music and lyrics, arranged the song, played guitar and sang vocals. Bass was played by Philippe Mark, keyboards by Vito Vincenzo Sicurella, strings by Barry Fowler and drums by Seth. “Tuesdays”, along with her three previous solo singles, will be included on her forthcoming debut EP Ania in Chains, due out later this year
Ania was inspired to write “Tuesdays” by the many soul-crushing challenges we all faced in 2020 – the COVID-19 pandemic and resulting economic fallout, the deep and bitter political divide, and so on. “The song is really about being lost and finding yourself, I think. About finding your way. When the idea for it came to me, I was just walking around the mountains in LA and was trying to find myself again in nature. We’re all kind of lost right now, I think. We’re all there or we’ve all been there, all struggling with different things. But we’ll make it through.”
She delivers her hopeful message with a barrage of intricate fuzz-coated riffs, punctuated by some serious shredding and grinding distortion that create a strong sense of foreboding. Her amazing guitar work is backed by a powerful rhythm section of driving bass and tumultuous percussion that heighten the overall sense of tension quite nicely. Her commanding vocals are both seductive and urgent as she impels us to gather our inner strength and forge ahead through the difficulties with the belief that things will get better: “Inhale, Inhale. And now times have changed. But don’t give in / You’re gonna find a way. All out! All out! I beg you know A WAY.” I think “Tuesdays” is her best single yet!
For my latest installment of recent releases, I’m featuring four scintillating new singles by international artists (in alphabetical order) Favourite Daughter, Lazer Squad featuring Melotika, NAYAD and Alex Southey. Three of them – Favourite Daughter, Melotika and Alex Southey – are Canadian, Lazer Squad is German and NAYAD are Swedish.
“Long Distance” by Favourite Daughter
Favourite Daughter is the music project of Toronto-born and now Montreal-based singer-songwriter Julia Kennific, who’s just released her terrific debut single “Long Distance“. Drawing inspiration from such artists as Courtney Barnett, Hayley Williams and Julien Baker, she creates her own unique brand of infectious indie pop/rock through catchy melodies, honest, vulnerable lyrics and emphatic vocals. Julia wrote and sang vocals on the song, with assistance by Sam Eastman on guitars, Sam Donald on bass, Kate Markle on synths, Edward Scrimger on drums and Gabrièle Côté-LeBreux on percussion. The track was produced, recorded and mixed by Steven Gibb at Lites Down Studio, and mastered by Richard Addison at Studio Trillium Sound.
Julia elaborates on her impetus for writing the song: “I wrote ‘Long Distance‘ on an unplugged, rented electric guitar during a blackout on a night off from an opera gig I was doing in Halifax in the summer of 2019, in tears after a frustrating phone call with my then-girlfriend. We were spending a four month stretch away from each other while I travelled for work. Neither of us were communicating well, and our daily check ins became monotonous. Both of us kept up the charade that we were good, while allowing fear and resentment to build up, which ended up costing us the relationship entirely. It’s about trying to keep up appearances that everything’s fine, while running from the inevitable.“
The rousing song features lively rhythms and chugging guitars, creating a cheerfully upbeat but anxious vibe that builds as the song progresses. It all works beautifully to convey feelings of running away from one’s problems, yet knowing you’ll have to face up to them sooner or later: “So it’ll feel like I’m dying till it doesn’t anymore / I’ll rebuild again, Lord knows that I’ve done it before.“
“Eternal Eclipse” by Lazer Squad featuring Melotika
Lazer Squad is a versatile and talented electronic artist and producer from Germany who creates EDM, Synthwave and Nu-Disco music. He began his music career over 15 years ago as a drummer for a punk and metal band, as well as playing and touring with numerous bands as a backup musician, eventually transitioning to electronic music. In 2020, he wowed critics and fans alike with his excellent debut album Undead Nightmare, which he then followed with a series of singles. His latest effort is “Eternal Eclipse“, a mesmerizing EDM track featuring sultry vocals by Montreal-based singer-songwriter Melotika, a hard-working and charming electro pop artist for whom I have a special fondness. She’s released quite a lot of music over the past three years, and I’ve had the pleasure of featuring some of it on this blog. She will soon be dropping her debut album Dancing Without You.
“Eternal Eclipse” serves up an infectious EDM groove that aims straight for the hips, giving us three and a half minutes worth of joyous escapism. The timely lyrics describe what it feels like to be stranded in the middle of a global crisis with a loved one: “Everybody’s trippin’ out / Taken back, shaken up / Nobody even knows my name / Thinking about tearing down, and I’m singing a song. Singing alone. What can I do without you?” Have a listen and prepare to move those hips!
Stockholm-based duo NAYAD create dreamy psych lofi pop, which they humorously describe as “Tame Impala, Lana Del Rey and ABBA had an orgy and the result is us” – a pretty spot-on characterization of their gorgeous sound. Last summer, they burst onto the Swedish music scene with their breakout Swedish-language single “Ingen vet”, then followed up with the English-language “Don’t be mad if I don’t come along”, gaining airplay on Swedish National Radio and other radio stations. In November, they dropped their third single “Holy Lakes (Dusk)” a stunning track celebrating their love of nature. Although the single is now more than two months old, I’m featuring it now because they just released a beautiful video for the song.
The song is utterly captivating, with achingly beautiful piano keys, accompanied by stirring atmospheric synths creating an enchanting soundscape for their sublime vocal harmonies. About the fascinating video, they provide a bit of enlightenment: “NAYAD loves mother earth. We immediately had a clear picture that the video for ‘Holy Lakes (Dusk)’ would be a journey through lakes and mountains, because that is the theme of the song. We used an introductory film to national parks around North America and cut it together with other goodies we have collected over the years.” Much of the imagery they used includes old footage of Yosemite and Yellowstone National Parks.
Alex Southey is an indie folk singer-songwriter and musician currently based in Toronto. He’s released quite a lot of music over the past few years, including two albums: Christmastown in 2019 and last year’s You’re Not Just a Body to Me. Since that release, he’s dropped three singles in advance of his forthcoming third album …And the Country Stirred, due for release on February 5th. The latest of these three singles is “Rosie“, a hauntingly beautiful and deeply personal love song to his erstwhile hometown of Vancouver. Alex sang and played guitar, piano and the soaring string arrangements, Kenny Feinstein played fiddle, and Tommy Drinkard played pedal steel and mandolin. The track was produced and mixed by JUNO Award winner John Critchley and mastered by Aaron Hutchison.
About the song’s title, Alex elaborates: “Who is ‘Rosie’? I had been wanting to write about a place, but knew that I’d have to personify it. I was trying, failing, at growing rosemary naturally on my balcony and I began to find the word alluring. I fused it with this personification concept and it became the name of the person when in reality, the song is a love letter to Vancouver where I was born. I feel a sort of mysterious attraction to Vancouver. The city sells itself well, but has its pitfalls: rain all the time, darkness, basements, high price of living – it can all seep into you. For a long time, I was giving something to it and it didn’t give me anything back.” In his sublime and plaintive vocal style, he croons of his mixed emotions: “Rosemary, I can stay away / You say it well, then you take it away / Got no problem, follow up / You’re the one I say I’m from.“
Justin Beynon is a musician and singer/songwriter based in Aberdare, Wales who I recently learned about when he reached out to me about his just-released debut album In Motion. Music has been a major part of Justin’s life since his childhood, and he’s played an active role in the Welsh music scene for the last 30 years. As a member of numerous bands over the years, he’s been featured on several albums, as well as collaborated on many projects as a session musician. He’s also taught guitar and piano for the last 24 years. Several years ago, he built his own home studio and began learning how to use new technology so that he could record the backlog of songs he’d been writing over the years. Last year he decided to produce his first solo album, and got busy recording songs in his home studio, singing and playing all the instruments himself, other than on four songs that he recorded in a studio with the help of a friend and former bandmate Meirion Townsend on drums. The tracks were then mixed and mastered by Matthew Evans.
Justin elaborates on the things that inspired him to record and release the album: “Long before this pandemic was even on the horizon, I had experienced some of the most difficult and emotionally challenging years to date. As a result, I began to feel my passion and drive for playing and creating music slowly ebb away. Things got really difficult. I wondered if I was done. But, as has been the case so may times in the past, music came to my rescue. This collection of songs started life as two separate EP’s but with a common thread, that life is constantly ‘in motion’, regardless of what gets thrown at us.
Putting this album together has been my way of navigating a very difficult time. It was a big step forward for me as a writer, to have the freedom to work to my own timescale and have the tools to record myself, without the restrictions of studio costs etc. It was also my first step in releasing my own music under my own name rather than a band name. I called the album ‘In Motion’ as it seemed an appropriate title to a life and body of work gathering momentum over time, from the past and into the future. It’s been my way of making sure that these songs don’t live and die in my head. I hope that whoever hears them will find something positive in them.”
Well, I must say that after listening to In Motion, I’ve found plenty to like. First off are Justin’s engaging and catchy melodies. As someone with no musical aptitude whatsoever, I’m always impressed at how musicians are able to write great melodies and bring them to life with thoughtful arrangements and masterful instrumentation, which brings me to the second aspect of his music. Justin is an excellent guitarist, seemingly at ease playing a wide variety of styles ranging from folk, country and Americana to blues rock. He’s also a fine pianist, as evidenced on the opening track “All Inside” and the beautiful “All the Way Through”. Then there are his intelligent, heartfelt lyrics that speak to us in deeply meaningful ways which are expressed through his wonderful, no-frills vocals that remind me at times of the great Tom Petty.
He hits the ground running with the aforementioned “All Inside“, a rousing folk rock song that seems to speak to a relationship that’s failed due to a break down in communication and trust. Justin starts things off with his strummed acoustic guitar, then layers assertive piano keys and a driving bass line to add emotional depth to the song as he plaintively sings, “You’ll land, just like you did last time. You’ll stand, by keeping it all inside /Tell me, the reason for your disguise. Help me by keeping it all inside.” His blistering electric guitar that enters in the bridge and continues through the end of the track ends things on a high note.
Justin taps into his more soulful side on “The Walkover Rule“, laying down bluesy riffs over a mellow and funky groove that make this one of my favorite tracks on the album. He really channels Tom Petty on the next three tracks. The first, “Who Delivers?“, is a lovely, contemplative song where he seems to question the existence of faith: “Everyone’s talking like they know something. Like they found God. It’s probably nothing. Everybody knows somebody who delivers.” On the Beatle-esque “Another Universe“, he sings of hope and healing: “Until the sun comes out and warms the air like it was nothing. The day’s begun, start it all again. The fire and the rain will wash it all away into another universe.” And “The Sticks and the Stones” sounds like the best song Tom Petty never recorded, with a mix of jangly and twangy slide guitars that give the song a wonderful country rock vibe.
The melancholy “All the Way Through” is another of my favorites, as I’m a sucker for beautiful piano melodies. With only his haunting piano keys and stirring strings as a backdrop, Justin sadly laments to his partner of her unwillingness to make their relationship survive: “There’s nothing I can do to get you back inside the simple life. It’s perfectly entwined, and the love we’re trying to find is true. I really wanna see this all the way through. I’ll take it to a place where there ain’t any rules. I’m all out of luck.”
The mood picks up considerably with “Cheap Coat and Broken Wings“, a lively folk rock tune with some great Southern rock guitars, and on “One Long Kiss Goodbye“, with it’s exuberant toe-tapping melody and wonderful mix of jangly, chiming and gnarly guitars, accompanied by sparkling piano keys and snappy drumbeats. “Paper” is a particularly beautiful track, thanks to Justin’s shimmery guitar work and earnest vocals, enhanced by what I’m guessing are his own backing harmonies. The song seems to be a continuation of the sentiments first introduced on the opening track “All Inside”: “I don’t want to leave it all to chance. Do you want to wait for something greater? You’ve always lived with flashing lights. All of your dreams wrote out on paper.” He closes things out with “The Things That You Do“, a pleasing Country rock song with more of his terrific guitar work, and lyrics whose meaning I can’t quite figure out, but seem to speak to a loved one who takes him for granted: “The reason I fight ain’t over you. It’s not about the things that you do. I try, and I try ’cause of you, and you alone.”
To sum up, In Motion is a very fine, well-crafted album, and a wonderful debut effort from this remarkably talented musician. I’m truly impressed by Justin’s songwriting, musicianship and vocals, as well as his outstanding production abilities, and he should be very proud of what he’s created here. If you like an eclectic mix of folk and country infused with elements of blues, rock and pop, then you will enjoy this album.
Tobisonics is the music project of Toby Davis, a longtime alternative electro-pop artist, composer, songwriter and music producer based in Luxembourg. For several years, he used his creative vision and talents mixing, mastering or remixing other artists and bands’ music, but starting in late 2018, he decided to create his own musical works as Tobisonics. About his moniker, he explains “All Tobisonics really means is Tobi sounds. And that’s how I think of myself, as a noisemaker, rather than a musician.”
Costi is a London-based hip hop artist and rapper who describes himself as an “Emcee slash poet who mixes spoken word with hip hop music.. plus a little guitar.” He’s been featured on Fresh on the Net – Fresh Faves 316 and the BBC Introducing Mixtape, and has been involved in numerous musical collaborations and projects, including as one half of the hip hop/electronic music duo One Line to an Angle, who released a terrific single “Cassette Tape”, along with several remixes, last October.
I’ve previously featured Tobisonics three times on this blog, most recently last October when I wrote about his single “Military Industrial Complex“, a politically-charged electronic track featuring two important and diametrically opposite speeches by Presidents Eisenhower and Trump. (You can read my previous reviews by clicking on the “Related” links at the end of this post.) Angered by Trump’s incendiary Rose Garden speech last June, in which he threatened a harsh government response to the Black Lives Matter protests, Toby decided to contrast Trump’s menacing words with Eisenhower’s 1961 Farewell Address warning of the need for perpetual vigilance to safeguard the liberties of the American people against the military industrial complex and include them in his song. Though the song resonated with listeners and music critics, and received radio play on Amazing Radio US, KGUP FM, and scores of respected independent radio shows, Toby later confessed to having mixed feelings: “I feel ‘Military Industrial Complex’ was artistically successful but, in terms of its application, it failed. I wanted to engage with traditional voters on the right, instead I just ended up just preaching to the choir.”
With that sentiment in mind, he decided to create a new song that would tackle populist nationalism not with clever comparisons, but with hope: “I wanted toinspire hope and remind people of a time when we believed we could be one race of humans, a better people, a great people, a global people.” He teamed up with Costi to collaborate on a song they titled “Eye of the Storm“, an electro-synth retro-wave anthem of hope to raise people up after all the stress, worry, fear and pain of 2020. The single will be released on all music platforms on Wednesday, January 20th, in recognition of Joe Biden’s Inauguration as the 46th President of the United States. It’s the first of four collaborative music projects Tobisonics has planned for 2021.
For the song, Tobisonics sampled President John F. Kennedy’s famous inaugural speech, along with lyrics written and sung by Costi. The track opens with Costi singing the chorus, followed by several verses alternating with the repeated chorus. Musically, Tobisonics employs a powerful thumping synth bass beat, accompanied by ominous swirling industrial synths that seem to mimic bombs dropping from the skies, while Costi raps the biting lyrics with an impressive and commanding flow. At the two-minute mark, Kennedy’s speech enters, followed by the chorus. In the fifth recitation of the chorus, Costi’s lyrics are interspersed with the most famous lines of Kennedy’s speech:
The future’s bright that’s the neon lights (And so my fellow Americans) Demolition man put your dreams on ice (ask not) Said it’s going down if you’re seen on sight (what your country can do for you) Countdown started and we leave tonight (ask what you can do for your country)
The song ends with the often-overlooked second part to Kennedy’s most famous quote: “My fellow citizens of the world, ask not what America will do for you, but what together we can do for the freedom of man”, driving home the strong unifying message Tobisonics and Costi desired to great effect.
One of my favorite American indie bands is alt-rock quartet Roadkeeper, who since forming in 2018 have released a string of exceptional singles. Based in the eastern Texas city of Tyler, the band consists of songwriter/producer John Hetherington (vocals, synths, rhythm guitar), Trevor Tull (lead guitar), Nick Cogdill (drums) and Daniel Griffith (bass), all long-time friends. Roadkeeper is completely independent and self-produced, doing their recording, producing and mixing in John’s studio, and releasing their songs on their own label Equal Temperament. Blending dreamy shoegaze and dramatic psychedelic rock with complex melodic structures, they craft lush soundscapes that are a perfect backdrop for their intelligent, socially conscious, sometimes political, and always topically relevant lyrics that give us something to think about.
I’ve featured them three times on this blog over the past two years (you can read my reviews under ‘Related’ at the bottom of this article). I love all their songs, but two that stand out for me personally are “Old Man’s War”, a beautiful track about anxiety and worry over things, both real and imagined, and “Downs”, stunning song about impostor syndrome and not finding one’s place within the cultural and sociopolitical milieu. “Downs” went to #1 on my Weekly Top 30, and ranked #15 on my Top 100 Songs of 2020 list. Now they’re back with their 7th single “Enemy Mine“, which I’ve chosen as my New Song of the Week. While still featuring their dream rock elements we’ve come to love from Roadkeeper, the song is darker and more sonically intense than their previous singles, befitting the politically-charged lyrics.
The band doesn’t shy away from making their progressive-leaning views known, and states that the song “is about the far right radicalization of vulnerable young people in the U.S. by white nationalist professional pundits who are fed viewers and readers by algorithms on social media and YouTube. There is an organized effort to convert impressionable young people into radical white supremacists and encourage them to undertake radical action against marginalized people and progressive political movements. ‘Enemy Mine’ is about the dissonance between the perceived realities of radical white supremacists and that of everyone else.”
The track opens with ominous cinematic synths that build for nearly a minute, then pounding drumbeats ensue along with wailing guitars, only to calm back down as John begins to sings the verses in his beautiful falsetto. John and Trevor’s blend of jangly and psychedelic guitars are enveloped by shimmery synths, while Daniel and Nick drive the rhythm forward with their thumping bass line and aggressive drums. Everything erupts into an electrifying crescendo of wailing guitars, screaming synths and explosive percussion in the bridge, continuing through to the end of the track for a powerful climax to a gorgeous rock song.
Even words we never say
Turn their heads from soft to something strange
Waiting on some kids to sign on
Twisting up their roots to point their sharp to ZionTheir undeveloped brain’s distastes
For things they’ve never seen are set in place
It’s such a shame
Bitter little loners
Look to those who look like them to find themselves
Born without a purpose
Led to think they’re worthless until now
Feed their doubt Give them some kind of god to worship
Weapons always find their way to
Enemies’ front lines
Spreading lies, blacking flags
Even if they hesitate there’s
No way that they’re ever coming back
Safe behind the soft glow waiting
Self appointed sergeants have their backs
Holy war, hiding places
The worst of them will steal our words
The dramatic video, produced by Robert Woodward, shows digitally-altered footage of recent political protests juxtaposed with old footage of 50’s films, atomic blasts, space exploration and scenes of the band performing the song.